An uplifting movie that shows why you should never give up no matter how dark things seem.
Will Smith seems very disingenuous in the featurettes.
In The Pursuit of Happyness Will Smith plays Chris Gardner, a father trying to keep his family together in San Francisco. Trying to sell medical supplies isn't paying the bills and his girlfriend Linda (Thandie Newton) is getting tired of having to work so much. Rent is due, bills are mounting and finally she leaves. Chris eventually gets a position at Dean Witter Reynolds but the problem is that it is an internship and doesn't pay anything. Amidst this he is almost put in jail for failing to pay his taxes, he and his son are evicted from their hotel, and it just doesn't seem like Chris Gardner can catch a break. However, he keeps trying and that is his saving grace.
He figures out how to sell his medical supplies for bargain basement prices. He manages to impress the folks at Dean Witter. He keeps himself and his son together and in the end he triumphs just like the American Dream says we all can. While The Pursuit of Happyness is predictable, it takes pretty much the entire movie before Chris Gardner gets what he deserves. At a time in our history when the economy is starting to seem shaky, we have a war that appears to be endless, and confusion reigns over us every day someone like Chris Gardner shows us the true value of believing in yourself.
The Making Pursuit: An Italian Take on the American Dream featurette shows us why Will Smith and the other producers on this film wanted to go with Italian director Gabriele Muccino. Apparently Will Smith saw some of his films and felt like he could bring something different to this movie. Gabriele really clinched the job when he told Will Smith that Americans don't see the American Dream like people from other countries do. This featurette discusses how the director and star worked together, their styles, and the fact that Muccino didn't speak a lot of English before he embarked on this project.
Father and Son: On Screen and Off
This featurette looks at how Will Smith worked with his son Jaden. They talk about how they looked for other children to play this role, and how Jaden had a quality about him that made him right for the part. A lot of this seems like hubris. Why can't Will Smith simply say that it was easier to cast his son, he had an interest in acting, and it made it easier to look after him on the set then to pay another nanny? Something like that instead of giving us a paint by numbers answer.
The Man Behind the Movie
During a tribute to Will Smith on his birthday the real Chris Gardner showed up on the set. He and Will say good things about one another in front of a rapt audience of people. Then Chris Gardner talks about the movie, how painful it was to get back into this time in his life when he wrote the story, and the producers on the film discuss how involved Chris Gardner was with the actual production. I liked this because it was nice to see the person behind this story. To think about what he did and what he was able to accomplish, one might think it would take someone with superhuman powers. What is so impressive is that you see Chris Gardner and you realize he is simply a normal man.
Inside the Rubik's Cube
Director Gabriele Muccino opens up this commentary track by apologizing for having such a thick accent. He then goes on to discuss how he got involved in this movie, how he re-shot the big scene where Chris meets that stockbroker with the nice car because he wanted it to be more powerful (it being the thing that makes Gardner go into Dean Witter Reynolds in the first place), and Muccino also points out what is real in the movie and what are sets. This track is fairly by the book as he also explains how certain scenes in the movie were captured. This isn't the best commentary track I have ever heard, but if you liked this movie it is certainly worth a listen.
Widescreen. This film looked like it was shot in the 1980s. It has that concrete jungle feel and the director hasn't added any artificial slickness to it. However, due to the walls surrounding our characters, we feel like the world around them is closing in every second. This movie is also very colorful but not in a way that diverts your attention away from the story. By not adding much artifice, and telling this story in as straightforward a way as possible, The Pursuit of Happyness really works as a complete viewing experience.
Dolby Digital. Mastered in High Definition. English and French 5.1 - Dolby Digital. Subtitled in English, French and Spanish. Mastered in High Definition. Close Captioned. The soundtrack on this movie was perfect. It didn't tell you what to feel for the characters and it didn't manipulate your emotions. Yet, the audio had a presence all throughout Chris Gardner's good and bad times. The fact that the actors really carried this story without much help says a great deal about their capabilities.
The front cover of this DVD case is the same as the one sheet that was used when this movie was released. Will Smith and his son stand at the top of San Francisco (it seems) with the sun shining on them. The back cover features more shots of the main characters walking through the streets of the city, a description of what this movie is about, a Special Features listing, a cast list and technical specs. This packaging isn't amazing but this isn't the kind of movie where it needs to be.
It is easy deride this movie because it seems very predictable. We all know that in the end Chris Gardner is going to get the job. However, it's seeing what he was to go through that really drives the point of this story home. The best way to describe it is having your back against the wall. I have gone a day, or even a few days, where it seemed like something stressful in my life wasn't ever going to end. Then eventually it subsides and everything ends up working out. However, Chris Gardner's life was backed against the wall. This guy had bad luck it seemed from the opening frames of this movie, yet he never lost faith or seem to take it out on his family. Granted this is only a movie and we are only being showed so much, I still found it inspiring to see this person face each and every day short on cash but long on belief and determination.
As I have mentioned, The Pursuit of Happyness plays exactly how you think it might. It is an Academy Award-styled movie and that explains why Will Smith was nominated for Best Actor. However, there is a richness to this story that really makes one admire the intestinal fortitude of someone like Chris Gardner.
The Pursuit of Happyness was released December 14, 2006.